The Judy Garland Christmas Special, broadcast on CBS 12/22/63, was really just the holiday episode of Garland's single-season variety show. I have owned the soundtrack to the show for years, and have now seen the video of the episode several times. It is one of the Christmas programs I get to see every year, when I visit Los Angeles (I wrote about this yesterday). Judy's variety show is one of those series which is highly respected in retrospect, but one which struggled during its initial run.
Nobody could figure out how best to present this larger-than-life superstar on the small screen (a decade later, Julie Andrews had the same problem with her variety show). In its single, 26 episode season, they went through three producers (one of whom, George Schlatter, would go on to create Laugh-In) and just as many formats.
Mel Torme was hired to provide specialty musical material, and to appear as a frequent guest; he was sacked mid-way through, as was comic Jerry Van Dyke, who received rotten reviews, and choreographer Danny Daniels (Torme filed a breach of contract suit, and wrote a scathing memoir about the experience). Garland had resisted committing to a television series throughout the 50s, but the early 60s found her in financial trouble with the IRS, so she signed a very lucrative deal.
Ever the trooper, she tried to accommodate all the changes her producers were tossing at her, but the show's timeslot, opposite ratings giant Bonanza, probably doomed the program. The show is now available on DVD, and features memorable guest spots from the biggest names in entertainment at the time, and included some up-and-comers like Barbra Streisand, who earned an Emmy nomination for her appearance.
Several episodes of the series threw out any semblance of variety show format, and simply featured Garland giving a one-hour concert.
Anyway, back to this week's Dance Party. Near the top of her Christmas "special," Judy (in a swell Edith Head gown) invites the audience to join her as she spends Christmas with her family and a few friends.
Her two youngest kids, Lorna and Joey Luft, are given the spotlight several times during the show, with Lorna coming off much better than her brother. She belts a pretty nice rendition of "Santa Clause is Coming to Town," even recovering from an ill-timed swallow. Joey, though, proves that he inherited his father's genes, rather than his mother's. His rendition of "Where Is Love" (one of several tunes featured on the show from Oliver!, which was packing them in on Broadway at the time), is so painful, it was not included in the soundtrack recording.
When Judy introduces her younger children, she purrs, "Liza's out skating with her beau, she'll be in later." Whether or not Tracy Everett, the co-star of the clip below, was actually Minnelli's boyfriend, I really don't care. He was definitely a part of Garland's weekly chorus of dancers, and in this clip, he displays his choreographic skills as well. And doesn't he remind you of this guy from Petticoat Junction?
Anyway, in honor of Christmas, enjoy this clip of a 17-year old Liza Minnelli, back when she fancied herself a dancer, and her "beau," Tracy Everett. Probably to accommodate Minnelli's preference for Fosse-ish jazz moves, Tracy did not include any tap, which was a particular strength of his. He teaches it now in Hoboken.